rational recovery

Quick Profiles: Rational Recovery

This is another in our series of “quick profiles” on programs that are out there for people who are trying to achieve sobriety or moderation.

Rational Recovery, developed in 1986, uses an approach that revolves around recognizing and combatting the voice in your head that promotes alcohol consumption.

We actually talk about a similar concept in some of the exercises in Drinker’s Helper (see the exercise “Voices”), and you can find reference to this addictive voice in many books and memoirs about alcohol abuse, going by different names (the Wine Witch, etc.).

Here’s the skinny on the Rational Recovery approach:

  1. It urges you to overpower your “animalistic” urge to drink with your more rational higher mind. It puts the drive for drinking alongside such core drives as the drive for food, for sex, for shelter. It suggests that while you cannot get rid of this drive, you can consistently overcome it because your rational mind is, after all, in charge. This principle makes sure that you see the pro-drinking voices in your head as separate from your own voice, so you can fight back more easily.

  2. It urges absolute abstinence and commitment to this goal. The idea is that once you truly decide you will never drink again, and learn their techniques, you won’t ever relapse, because you are in charge of your baser desires, and don’t feel deprived of anything valuable. This is a strong rejection of the idea of “one day at a time,” often espoused by Alcoholics Anonymous. The idea is that while you still have the desire for alcohol in you, you are firmly in charge, and that never changes, so it’s not a constant struggle against relapse. Moderation is out of the question.

  3. It urges addicted drinkers to recognize that many of their problems in life stem from their alcohol consumption, so it is a rational choice to avoid it. It suggests that drinking is done purely for the purpose of pleasure, and that therefore continuing to do so despite negative consequences to yourself or others is morally wrong. This thinking is intended to strengthen commitment to abstinence from alcohol.

  4. It does not use support groups as a major component, unlike several other organizations like Women for Sobriety or Alcoholics Anonymous. It in fact says support groups should be avoided at all costs, because they introduce doubt about your ability to stay in control and because they are unnecessary if you follow their prescribed technique. You are supposed to help yourself, on your own, by learning the skills needed to respond appropriately to the hungry addict voice.

We definitely agree that the pro-drinking voice should be treated as separate from yourself (see our exercise “Personifying Urges”), and agree that sobriety doesn’t have to be a struggle.

However, we do not agree that all drinking is done for pleasure, that moderation is impossible, or that support groups drag drinkers down. In our experience, drinking can be for pleasure, or it can be a misplaced coping response. If you don’t find new ways to cope, you very well might relapse, or find sobriety very difficult. Moderation should be possible if we’re really in charge of our animal brains, and evidence shows that it can work (read: be maintained over time). And many people question their decision to quit or cut back, or feel alone in their struggle, and having an ongoing dialogue with others in the same place can help them make up their minds as well as get advice on how to stick with their plans.

To learn more about Rational Recovery, visit their site.

If you’ve decided to moderate your drinking or quit drinking, we’d love to help. Try out the app at the link below! We’ve got exercises, a support group, and drink tracking and insights to help you achieve your goals.

The angry pro-drinking voice in your head

The angry pro-drinking voice in your head